Sunday, October 31, 2021

Happy Halloween!

Boynton, Sandra. Boo! Baa, La La La!
July 20th 2021 by Little Simon
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

The main character from Moo! Baa, La La La (1982) tackles the Halloween holiday in this delightful board book from the master of all board books. The cow sends a plaintive "boo" through the night air, only to be answered by a "baa". Curious about the origins of the sound, the cow utters it again, only to hear even more sounds in the night. Climbing a hill festooned with jack o'lanterns, the cow once again sends forth the Halloween greeting, and is met by a chorus of animals returning the spooky salutation. The chorus of pigs (one in a ghost costume) end with the rousing chorus of "la la la".

Boynton's drawings of farm animals are amusing and soothing in equal parts to me. From Chocolate: The Consuming Passion (1982) to greeting cards and mugs when I was in college, to the board books I read to my children in the early 1990s, Boynton's work has unfailingly delighted me. Not only are the illustrations somehow wry and satisfying, but the verse is always exquisitely done. I'm very particular about poetry, and Boynton's lines are metrically sound, and utilize an exceptional range of vocabulary with solid rhymes. Not only that, but they have a warm underlying philosophy to them as well.

I'm clearly behind on my Boynton reading, and must catch up. There is a sequel to But Not the Hippopotamus called But Not the Armadillo, and if Woodland Dance is half as good as Barnyard Dance, I desperately need it in my life.

Perhaps I can't be objective about Boynton's work. I will say that these books are ones that children will want to hear over and over again, but which will remain a delight to the adult who is compelled to do the reading. This is perhaps the highest praise one can give to a book meant for very young children!

And yes, even though I rarely buy books, I just order two copies of the 2015 reprint of Chocolate: The Consuming Passion as well as five of the board books, from my local independent bookstore, Birdie Books. I also feel a rather overwhelming desire to go to the Dubois Bookstore on Calhoun, across from the University of Cincinnati, and buy a pad of stationery with Boyton characters, or, if I am feeling flush, a mug. 

Crashing in Love

Jacobs, Jennifer Richards. Crashing in Love
October 12th 2021 by Candlewick Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Peyton has plans for her summer in the small town of Mussel Shoals, Maine, where she hopes to work with her best friend working at the Anchorage Hotel.  When Mari decides to spend the summer in Gloucester helping out her aunt, Peyton feels abandoned. On an early  morning bike ride, she comes across a boy who has been hit by a car and is unconscious. She calls 911 right away, and soon the EMTs are taking the boy to the hospital. Her mother, the town's only journalist, finds out that he is a camper from Brentwood named Gary Olsen. There's very little evidence about who would have hit him, but Peyton's mother starts an investigation. Peyton wants to help, and is excited about the idea that she could do investigative journalism like her mother, but she soon becomes obsessed with the romantic idea that Gray could be destined to be her boyfriend for the summer. Unfortunately, he is badly wounded and unconscious for a very long time, but that doesn't stop Peyton from visiting the hospital, and even taking the job of talking to the boy when his mother needs to catch up on her work. Mrs. Olsen is touched by Peyton's devotion, but her own family is worried. Sisters Call and Brownyn think she should find something else to do, and her grandmother and father are hurt that she chooses to spend the summer in town living with her mother so that she can visit the hospital, instead of staying with them and helping out on the farm. It doesn't help that Mari doesn't keep in close contact, although Peyton hears that her best friend is having a more exciting summer than she is having, complete with her first boyfriend. Still determined that Gray will be her first boyfriend, Peyton does have some success in solving the mystery of who hit him, but is disappointed when the boy she saved wakes up. 
Strengths: The small town setting, which enables Peyton to get everywhere on a bicycle and know everyone in town, was very appealing. The family dynamics, with the grandmother being very possessive of Peyton, were interesting as well, and the mother's job came into this in a very realistic and interesting way. Peyton is a well-developed character, who has her own quirks and interests, like putting up posters of inspirational quotes, and her interest in Gray develops in a way that makes sense for the story. There's a little bit of a mystery as well. 
Weaknesses: While the story is solidly middle grade, Peyton's obsession with Gray seemed more like a young adult one. Her motivation for helping him is more romantic than I would expect for a tween. It doesn't seem impossible, just a bit unlikely. 
What I really think: I've often said that the difference between middle school romances and high school ones are that middle school ones are happier, and high school ones have more angst. This has a bit more angst. While I liked the mystery and the family working through the aftermath of divorce, I'm just going to have to think about this one and whether I have readers for it. 

Saturday, October 30, 2021

The Best (Worst) Halloween Ever

Robinson, Barbara. The Best (Worst) Halloween Ever
July 27th 2004 by HarperCollins 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this third book in the Herdmans trilogy after The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (1972) and The Best School Year Ever(1994), we find not only the principal of Woodrow Wilson Elementary but the mayor of the whole town so distraught over the Herdman's antics that Trick or Treating is outlawed. Thisis after the latest incident, where the six Herdman children and two friends get stuck in the revolving door at the bank and have to be extricated by the fire department. One of the friends is the narrator Beth's brother Charlie. The Herdmans have also put guppies on pizza, and since it's known that they routinely shake children down for candy, the school decides to host its own event. The parents plan games, and intend to show up in costumes, and the children aren't all that excited. Alice Wendleken tries to insert herself into the event for her own self promotion. There's some mix up about costumes (Beth wants to go as a mermaid, but her mother doesn't want her showing her midriff; there are a lot of Happy Hobo costumes), and some candy shortages in town. Will the Herdmans manage to derail this event as well?
Strengths: There definitely need to be more middle school books that involve Halloween. Even though parties, costumes, and candy figure largely in elementary students' minds, candy and the freedom to run around the neighborhood with friends is HUGE in the middle school experience. This one is mildly amusing. 
Weaknesses: This one just isn't all the funny. We hear about a few of the Herdman's antics, but don't see any of them, and the one at the dance... meh. I'm also very concerned about the Herdman's, and think that today there would be a lot more sympathy and help extended to them. The mayor gets involved? How small is this town?
What I really think: This will probably be weeded soon. Maybe not just yet, but soon. The copy doesn't smell bad and isn't falling apart, and has circulated fairly recently. I am now somewhat afraid to reread The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which was always one of my favorites. 

Friday, October 29, 2021

Frankie & Bug and The Last Chance for Logan County

Forman, Gayle. Frankie & Bug
October 12th 2021 by Aladdin
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Bug (Beatrice) is looking forward to spending the summer of 1987 hanging out at Venice Beach with her older brother Daniel, just like they have for the past several years. When Danny wants more "space", their mother decides that she will instead have to hang out at their apartment. One neighbor, Hedvig, watches out for her, as does Phillip. When Phillip's nephew, Frankie, shows up from Ohio to spend the summer, Bug is expected to hang out with him, even though he doesn't like the beach. Instead, he is enthralled by the Midnight Marauder, who is terrorizing the area, bludgeoning unsuspecting victims. Bug's mother works for the local mayor's office, and keeps assuring them that they are safe, but they doubt her. When gangs of skinheads threaten Bug and her brother because of his Salvadoran looks, and Phillip is beaten up because he is gay, safety seems like a precarious state. Frankie becomes more comfortable in his new environment, and it turns out that he was sent to live with Phillip to get some "nonsense out of his system"-- Frankie is transgender, and wasn't even aware that there was a word for how he identified until he meets others like him in the area. When Aunt Teri comes to watch Bug (and reluctantly, Frankie), family secrets come out, and Bug must learn to make peace with her judgmental aunt and learn to support her new friend. 

There are a growing number of books addressing LGBTQIA+ issues in the 1980s, including Papademtriou's Apartment 1986 and Pixley's Trowbridge Road, and it's interesting to see this issue from a historical perspective. It's hard for younger readers to understand just how much things have changed. AIDS doesn't make the news quite as much today, but was certainly a huge concern at the time, and unfortunately, the views of this disease resulted in the mistreatment of the gay population. I did appreciate that Ryan White was mentioned as someone who was affected by this disease through a blood transfusion. 

Bug's desire to hang out on the beach and explore her world might be novel to young readers who are never allowed out of the house without direct adult supervision, and the idea that Danny could be out because he was a boy will also be an indication that this is historical fiction. The vibrant culture of Venice Beach during this period of history is nicely explained, and while I'm not sure the Midnight Marauder was an actual person, the inclusion of this mystery is certainly in keeping with the news of the time. 

Readers who enjoyed Lisa Bunker's Zenobia July or Gephardt's Lily and Dunkin and the sense of supportive community depicted in those books will find Bug's summer of growth and change an interesting time to visit.

Frankie was treated much  more kindly that he probably would actually have been in the 1980s. It's hard to believe how badly the LGBTQIA+ community was treated in the past, and I'm not sure how  much we need modern children to understand about this. 

Giles, Lamar. The Last Chance for Logan County
(The Legendary Alston Boys #3)
October 19th 2021 by Versify
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This was a nice wrap up of Otto and Sheed's story, with a bit of a surprise light romance. It seemed somehow goofier than the first two books, but was a fun fantasy romp.


In this third Legendary Alston Boys adventure, Otto and Sheed have to team up with the Ellison twins to take down a corporation obsessed with the weirdness of Logan County and that's turning its residents into Money-Zombies.

With the Rorrim Mirror Emporium closed and their adventures through the last mirror on the left behind them, Otto and Sheed are ready for things to get back to normal. But the FixItYall that Sheed took warned of side effects and they quickly come true—starting with a thunderstorm raining frogs. But that's only the beginning. Teachers begin quitting suddenly, vets leave their animals behind, and a strange goat starts delivering takeout orders. When a suspicious company known as GOO, obsessed with Logan County's weirdness, shows up and starts buying all the property in town and threatening to take Sheed away after some strange new energy is traced back to him, the Legendary Alston Boys of Logan County, along with Otto's mom, Sheed's dad, and the Ellison twins, have to find a way to save their town and keep their family together. 

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Living Ghosts and Mischievous Monsters: Chilling American Indian Stories

Jones, Dan SaSuWeh and Alvitre, Weshoyot. 
Living Ghosts and Mischievous Monsters: Chilling American Indian Stories. 
September 7th 2021 by Scholastic Nonfiction
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

This collection of short stories from a variety of Native American backgrounds is divided into five major categories; Ghosts, Spirits, Witches, Monsters, and the Supernatural, although there is understandably a lot of cross over between types of stories. All are labeled with the area of the US or the tribes from which the stories are gleaned, and SaSuWeh (from the Ponca Nation) tells many himself. Most are two to three pages long, and accompanied with large illustrations, so they do have a decided Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark vibe.
There is a lot of information about Native American culture shared along with the stories. For example, in The Deer Hunter, we see background on hunting, as well as how tribal medicine people dealt with the sickness of one of the characters in the story. In The Garage Sale, we learn about how personal possessions are important and intrinsically tied to the fates of their owners. The Boy Who Watched Over the Children discusses the tragedy of Indian Boarding Schools in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Jones also has a good introduction that explains how some tales were not meant to be widely shared, and how some characters were not meant to be named. Information about how the tales were collected is interesting as well.
Weshoyot's black and white line illustrations are chilling, but also give a good sense of place. She does a particularly good job at portraying some of the monsters and animals, and these pictures add to the scary quality of the tales.
Like San Souci's Dare to Be Scared or Haunted Houses, this gives a variety of stories from difference backgrounds. Since they are all fairly short, this would make a good read aloud, especially if you wanted to highlight Native stories for National Native American Heritage Month in Novemember. It also makes a great addition to Folklore collections, where it is hard to find Native stories told by Native writers.
I'm not sure that my students would consider any of these stories to be all that scary.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Polo Cowboy

Neri, G. Polo Cowboy
October 12th 2021 by Candlewick Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Cole has enjoyed working with horses so much in Ghetto Cowboy that he decides to stay in Philadelphia with his father, Harp, instead of going back home with his mother. This is a bit of an adjustment, especially since Harp expects him to fend for himself, getting free lunch and breakfast, working with the horses at the inner city stable in the morning, and taking an after school job at a nearby military academy to work off the debt incurred by boarding his horse, Boo, there. It's a grueling day, and the school is more challenging than his school back home. He occasionally meets up with his cousin, Smush, who is engaged in a variety of illegal activities. Harp doesn't want Cole to have anything to do with him, but Cole still likes being with his cousin, although he does not appreciate getting roped into his business. Cole meets Ruthie near the old police barn, and finds that she is an avid polo player. She is a student at the military academy, which is unusual for both a girl and a student of color. She starts to teach Cole how to play the sport, and he is both intrigued by her equine interests and her forthright attitude, especially about the vitiligo the affects her face. He is a little leery of her wealthy background, and has not had the best experience with other people at the school. He takes part in a polo exhibition at the school, and Smush tries to get involved, but it ends poorly. When his life is impacted by tragedy, Cole has to think hard about how he wants to proceed with his new life in Philadelphia. 
Strengths: This had a lot of good details about taking care of horses, and also about riding and playing polo. Terms are introduced in a way that is easy to understand, since Cole is learning about the sport as well. His relationship with Ruthie is fun to watch, and it's ogod to see them connect over a shared passion. Harp's parenting is something Cole needs to get used to, and the people he collects as his family offer him a strong support system. The racial issues with the military academy seem realistic, and Cole must find ways to work within the system while not agreeing with it. 
Weaknesses: I wish there had been a little bit more about Cole's school, since he entertains the idea of going to the academy. The principal was an intriguing character, and I would have liked to see a few more scenes set in the school. 
What I really think: Ghetto Cowboy came out ten years ago, which is almost around the time my 6th graders were born. My copy is in decent shape, mainly because my students aren't eager to pick it up. I'll see if I can brush it off and get some interest in it before I purchase this sequel. Perhaps if my students see the movie of the first book, they will be interested in it. 
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Any Sign of Life

Carson, Rae. Any Sign of Life 
October 12th 2021 by Greenwillow Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Paige wakes up feeling very wobbly, and finds that her mother, a nurse, has attached her to an IV and she's gone through several bags of fluid. She's determined to clean up and make it to basketball practice before her mother prevents her, but she soon realizes that things are definitely not right. She knew there was a flu devastating the city of Columbus, Ohio, and knows she was coming down with it, but is shocked to discover that not only is her entire family dead from it, but most people in the entire world have succumbed. She goes to check on a neighbor and finds her dog, and makes tentative journeys out. At one grocery store, she meets Trey, whom she recognizes as a Black football standout and scholar heading to Ohio State. His mother was a medical professional, so he is able to help her, and he has also heard radio broadcasts out of Sandusky, so he knows other people are alive. The two plan on making their way there, and also come across Tanq, a Goth girl who has some major family issues and would rather be alone in the apocalyptic landscape. The virus is accompanied by weird space ship-like objects and an odd green cast to the sky. The three struggle to survive, so have little time to mourn the loss of the entire world. When they finally make it to Sandusky, they find that the reason for the devastation, as well as their survival, are more sinister and wide-reaching than they could ever imagine.
Strengths: This was a riveting, dystopian novel, and I haven't seen a good one since Oppel's Overthrow trilogy. Also, this is set in my area, and I loved all of the local details. Paige and Trey were engaging characters who were doing their best under horrific circumstances, AND they took great care of the dog. This wasn't bogged down by a lot of introspection, although there was a touching scene where Paige brought out all of the IDs of people who had helped them that she had saved, and the group reflected on people who had been lost. This took a bit of a twist at the end, and could either be a stand alone or have a sequel.
Weaknesses: As an adult, I had some issues with some things in this book: I thought Tanq's story slowed the book down, and I was a bit thrown by the cause of all of the problems. It was also really rather gross, with all of the dead bodies. The world would smell even worse than depicted, I imagine, but it was a bit hard to read. Tanq also let a fair number of f-bombs fly. Will Young Adult readers be bothered? No.
What I really think: The Columbus setting was so appealing that I am half tempted to buy this one. Will debate because of the language, although it doesn't occur until halfway into the book, and any very sensitive 6th graders will have given up reading by them due to the descriptions of the dead bodies.

Ms. Yingling

Monday, October 25, 2021

MMGM- A Batch Made in Heaven

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Nelson, Suzanne. A Batch Made in Heaven
October 19th 2021 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mina is super excited that her middle school has teamed up with local businesses to provide internships for 7th grade students, and is thrilled when she gets her first choice of A Batch Made in Heaven, a gourmet cookie bakery. Her friend Kalli is excited to work at the Oyster Cove Historical Society and plans on to work with them on providing more information on the Chinook and Samish peoples, since she has that heritage. Mina is a bit worried when Flynn Winston, the very cute 8th grade son of the owner, is not happy to have her in the shop, and it's even more disappointing when it doesn't look like she will be allowed in the kitchen. Hughie, who is in charge of her, wants her to post for the shop on social media and work at the counter instead. Things are a bit rough at home as well. Both of her parents are overwhelmed by her twin infant siblings, Amul and Banita. Her parents moved to Washington state from Dehli, India so her mother could go to graduate school, and her father had to give up his restaurant. He and Mina used to bond over cooking, but things have been so busy that Mina spends her time doing chores instead. After a rocky start at the shop, she and Flynn start to get along, and Mina finds out some secrets about the genesis of many of the recipes. Once she knows this, Flynn allows her more access to the kitchen, which is a big help when she wants to enter a cookie competition. There is a big shopping spree as a prize, and Mina hopes that her family could use this if her father finally buys a restaurant that is up for sale in town. Instead, when she makes the cut for the competition and needs to go to Seattle to compete, her parents say it is out of the question because things are so hectic at home. Mina forges her mom's name and take a bus to participate. At the same time, the secrets of the cookie shop hit the news, and Flynn blames Mina. Will Mina be able to sort out the various problems in her life?
Strengths: The whole series of WISH books are very popular in my library, and the combination of food, friend drama, and middle school romance is hugely appealing. Unlike YA romance, which is fraught with all manner of problems, many about the romance itself, middle grade romance usually includes one misunderstanding, and then a few sweet, tentative kisses and handholding. So much more pleasant! I also enjoyed the fact that Kalli has to give a presentation at the museum, and needs Mina's help, and there is a bit of friend drama as well. The family drama is very realistic, and while Mina's parents make a few mistakes and demand a lot of her, they do see that they were a bit unfair. It's great to see parents depicted as hardworking, caring, and still occasionally misguided! Flynn has a complicated backstory but treats Mina well eventually, and my favorite part was probably the ending. Recipes are included, but they are beyond my level of baking skills. I have a friend who might be able to make them for me. 
Weaknesses: Are there really 7th graders who bake this well? I have my doubts. I'm also a bit conflicted about the fact that Kalli is Native American and Mina's family is Indian. When the first WISH novel came out in 2013, having characters with a cultural background like this would have been perfect. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement started in 2014, and by 2020, there was a lot of concern about what used to be the #OwnVoices writers. I'm fine with this, and think that having a variety of characters depicted is good, even if it's a superficial treatment. Would I be glad if Scholastic ALSO had writers with cultural connections publish similar novels? Absolutely. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and my readers will be avidly awaiting this one. 

Atherton, David. Bake, Make & Learn to Cook
November 2nd 2021 by Big Picture Press (Candlewick)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I love cookbooks. I hate to cook, but I love reading about cooking. There are so many fun cookbooks for children, but my students aren't all that interested in them. Luckily, I have several students who are checking out lots of my books, so this is a good purchase, and I don't even need to justify it.

One of the things that I enjoy about cookbooks is what a great snapshot of social history and popular culture they are. The illustrations in this are so completely 2021 that they made me very happy. A vague 60s vibe with a more gently colored palette, lots of white space, and very readable font. The recipes were kid friendly but also updated-- there are more vegetarian dishes, like the hummus lion below, and a spicy sweet potato dip/spread that I definitely want to try. 

Even though this had a decided British feel to it (even I have never thought to serve tomato soup from a teapot, although I have several I could use), the measurements are in cups rather than grams, which made me happy. 

I'm not sure how many middle school students watch the Great British Baking Show, but think this will be a big hit even without that connection. 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

So, This is Christmas

Andreen, Tracy. So, This is Christmas
October 12th 2021 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Finley is attending a prestigious private school in Connecticut. Boarding there is a way to escape life in Christmas, Oklahoma, where she thinks her opportunities are limited. Even if private school will set her up to attend a good university, life there is lonely and difficult. She was a top notch student in Oklahoma, but just average in terms of prep school students. She decides to go home for Christmas and help out her grandmother at her Hoyden Inn, but things go badly wrong. Her mother is off visiting Finley's aunt, her father is living at the inn, her former best friend is dating her former boyfriend, and an academic rival is working for her grandmother. If all of that isn't enough, Arthur Chakrabarti Watercress (of the British construction equipment international conglomerate Watercresses) a classmate from the private school, has arrived in Christmas with his Aunt Esha to experience a traditional US Christmas. The problem? Finley may have posted some things on the town website that weren't exactly true, and Arthur and his aunt are bound to be disappointed by her deception. She's not fond of Arthur; he is snooty and hangs out with people who are unkind to Finley, but to uphold the honor of her grandmother's inn and the town in general, she needs to make the visitors' experience as good as she can. She embarks on a lot of projects that don't end well; visiting the local reindeer farm, baking cookies, and going to the local parade. Arthur is angry at the deception, but still wants to optimize his aunt's experience, since she has stuck by him when his busy parents have all but abandoned him. Finley has problems of her own, since she is worried that her parents are divorcing and is debating whether she will go back to the boarding school. She also starts to find Arthur rather attractive. The two manage to have a decent enough holiday, but there are some complications. Arthur and his aunt head back to Connecticut, and Finley wonders if she will ever see him again. Will a Christmas miracle, in an unlikely Christmas venue, bring them back together?
Strengths: I haven't watched many Hallmark Christmas movies, but I understand that Andreen has written for many of them. So, This is Christmas seems to have some similarities to these (small town setting, addition of attractive potential suitor from outside the town, Christmas activities, complications, happy ending), but also seemed more complex than the majority of them. This was solidly young adult, and included some facets of teen life that will definitely speak to high school readers; trouble fitting in at school, struggles with academic content, desire to go to a good college and leave one's hometown, parents having marital difficulties, drama with ex-boyfriends and friends. All of these topics make this a great read. The Christmas details are not lacking, and the romance develops fairly naturally. Arthur is a bit formal, but fully embraces the quirky Christmas experience, even if it wasn't what he expected. If this were ever made into a holiday movie, I might even watch it! (Still need to hunt down Suzanne Nelson's You're Bacon Me Crazy!)
Weaknesses: What is a weakness for middle school is a strength for Young Adult audiences. I enjoyed that fact that the plot got a bit complicated at the end with the grandmother coming out as a lesbian. The fact that the storyline with Ayisha ramped up to include the fact that she applied and was accepted to the private school Finley attends, but her mother wouldn't let her go was also a great addition. This shed a lot of light on why Ayisha always seemed irritated with Finley, especially once she started talking about not going back to the school. Both of these subplots added some diversity and interest to the story that was welcome, but also added to the length and complexity. The readers I have who want Christmas stories, however, are often struggling readers who would be happier with just the romance and the mixup about the commercial viability of Christmas, Oklahoma. 
What I really think: I did find it hard to believe that Finley couldn't make a simple batch of Christmas cookies and that Arthur didn't own a parir of jeans, but otherwise thought this was a great Young Adult holiday read. I enjoyed it a lot, but given the length (350+ pages) and the inclusion of several f-bombs, I think I will pass this on to the high school. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Cartoon Saturday- The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor

Garrity, Shaenon K. and Baldwin, Christopher. 
The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor
July 20th 2021 by McElderry Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Haley is so obsessed with Gothic novels that her language arts teacher has to tell her she can't do a book project on yet another one, bemoaning the fact that Haley can't be like the other girls and like sexy vampires. Disappointed, Haley is traveling home on a dark and stormy night ( in a long skirt, waistcoast, blouse, and Chuck Taylors) and hears someone calling for help from the water. She jumps from a bridge to rescue him, but the next thing she knows, she is waking up in a stereotypically creepy, Gothic mansion, complete with sarcastic, frumpy maid, three disparate brothers, Montague, Laurence, and Cuthbert and a mystery to solve. In addition to a hermitage, catacombs, and resident ghost, there is also a Doomsday like contraption in the basement. In a science fiction twist, the manor is the location of a portal to a gasket universe. Montague even gives Haley the instruction manual (a comic version with a perky spokesgirl reminiscent of 1950s commercials), but it is little use against the evil, possessed friar and hordes of Bile ridden bunnies. Will Haley's modern skills combine with her love of the Gothic world be able to combine and save the day?

Perhaps there are a lot of high school students well versed in the world of Daphne du Maurier and Jane Austen who will understand the dextrous use of Gothic tropes in this graphic novel, because this is certainly a tour de force of turning those tropes on their ears. I was particularly fond of the embittered servant woman who wanders the moors (where it rains once a day and twice on Sunday) to wail for her lost love, and Cuthbert, who throws himself into everything with a dimwitted fervor that highlights his Snidely Whiplash appearance. 

The illustrations are attractive, and Baldwin's background with Bruno and Spacetrawler both help to give a realistic feel to both the introspective, Gothic world and the science fiction one. The pallette is largely gray and brown, reflecting the Gothic gloom, but there are also some nice, sunny days outside of the manor. 

This is a quirky, Young Adult graphic novel that will find fans among the readers of other odd harmonic convergences such as Lumberjanes, although the people who might like it best might be middle aged high school language arts teachers and librarians who were thwarted in their quests to write a PhD thesis on the application of Austen's archetypes to moden psychology, but they will certainly promote this novel to their students! Perhaps for the next book Haley will get sucked into the world of her next assignment for class, "Hemingway whether you like it or not"!

Friday, October 22, 2021

Freddy vs. School

Cameron, Neill. Freddy vs. School (Freddy #1)
September 7th 2021 by David Fickling Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

In this notebook novel, we meet Freddy Sharma, who is a robot who lives in London with his parents and older robot brother Alex. His older brother is well behaved and an asset to his school, but Freddy's parents are constantly being called to school because he has set fire to things or exploded them! As a result, there are rules that he can't use his super strength, lasers, or rocket boosters while at school. This is hard, especially since his best (human) friend Fernando is constantly egging him on, communicating with Freddy through their Secret Robo-Communicator Watches. Freddy isn't a fan of school at the best of times, since he has to wear clothes and do math, but since he is a sentient robot who learns things, his robot scientist mother refuses to install a calculator app in him. The school bully, Henrik, is constantly giving Freddy and his friends trouble, and frequently goads Freddy into using his powers. Freddy tries to help new kid Riyad keep his unicorn lunchbox safe from Henrik, but it doesn't end particularly well, although the two become friends. There are all manner of highjinks, like a dare to race around in just his underwear (not a big deal for a robot), eat Cabbage Custard Curry, drink ten cans of a sugary soda, and visit a large aquarium called The Fishtank, the latter of which hovers on disaster. Will Freddy be able to save the day and not get himself suspended?

This had a very British feel, rather reminiscent of Berger's Lyttle Lies, Pichon's Tom Gates or Mian and Mafaridik's Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet. It lacks quirky grandparents, and Freddy's a robot, but otherwise includes a lot of standard school concerns such as bullies, strict teachers, field trips, and school lunches. 

The text is not hand drawn, but more of a Comic Sans style font that young readers will find appealing. The plentiful line drawings exude energy, and there are also other, larger font styles to highlight words, reminscent of Geronimo Stilton but rendered in black and white. Freddy is portrayed as a fairly standard, human shaped robot who looks just like his classmates in his school uniform, aside from his robotic head with big eyes. And, you know, the rocket boosters. 

As an adult, I wondered why Ms. Sharma didn't just reprogram Freddy so he would be well behaved like his older brother, but this is never addressed, and Freddy's eventual breaking of the rules ends up saving the day, so he is never really punished for his actions. 

Notebook novels about robots tend to lend themselves to series like Lerner's very clever EngiNerds, Richards' Robots Rule, and Patterson's House of Robots, so it is not a surprise that Freddy vs. School also looks to have another book in the works. 

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Night Ride

Coats, J. Anderon. The Night Ride
October 12th 2021 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sonnia lives in a vaguely medeival kingdom, in a village where her family is well off enough to own a horse and send her and her sister Greta to school for half days and to own a pony, but struggling enough that Sonnia has to earn coppers giving pony rides to children. Her brother has gotten a job working for the king, so doesn't have to worry about going to job fairs and obtaining menial labor, but it doesn't seem to pay enough to send money home. Since Sonnia desperately once to buy one of the horses, Richochet, that she helps to take care of at the local stable, she once to find a way to earn a good living. When her coworker, Paolo, is chosen to ride Richochet at the royal track as out outrider to calm down an expensive race horse, she tags along. Once at the track, she meets the only female jockey, Deidre, who babysat her when she was young! Deidre pulls some strings, and soon Sonnia is set to live at work next to her favorite horse. Part of the job involves exercising the horses, and she and the other children ride them along paths in the woods, which are generally to be avoided because of bandits. Sonnia is a good rider, and it's not long before she is approached to be part of the Night Ride, a dangerous undertaking the pits the children against each other in nighttime races. Since the king loves horses and doesn't want to see them mistreated, the punishment for "horse harm" is branding and exile, so Sonnia doesn't participate at first. When she gets her first pay from Deidre, she realizes that her room and board takes a large part of this, and doesn't leave enough money to send home so that her sister can go to school, so her parents want her to quit. Eventually, she starts racing, and does very well, earning a lot of money that she hopes to use to buy Richochet. When a horse is hurt and saved from being destroyed only because Paolo quits and takes the horse away, Sonnia knows that she has to speak up against this activity, even though the people who run it our surprisingly powerful, and she could be branded and exiled herself. 
Strengths: Sonnia is a very realistic character who wants what is best for her family, but also has desires of her own. When presented with a moral dilemma, she tries to stay true to her principals, and even when she gives in to the lure of the money, still doesn't feel good about her choice.This sets her apart from the other children, who feel that they don't have to support the system because it hasn't been fair to them. There are some good twists with the person who is running the race, as well as with the background of the other young riders. The blurb says this is like Black Beauty meets Tamora Pierce, and I can sort of see that, but it's not quite right AND most young readers won't be familiar with either of those titles! 
Weaknesses: I wish we had seen more of Sonnia's family life before she went to the track. I think it would have helped me understand what message was trying to be conveyed a bit more. While her relationship with her younger sister was well established, her parents were rather distant. There are some themes of equality and girl power, but I was never quite sure exactly what point was being made, especially after some twists with Deidre. Young readers won't particularly care, but I felt like I was missing something. 
What I really think: This had some similarities with Jessica Day George's Rose Legacy series, which is very popular in my library. The combination of horse care and riding, fighting the system, and trying to survive in a world where everything is stacked against our heroine makes this a solid choice for readers who like their adventure heavy on equine elements. The cover, with a horse front and center, will make this one that horse enthusiasts will be quick to pick up. 

 Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Keeping it Real

Chase, Paula. Keeping it Real
October 19th 2021 by Greenwillow Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
Mari's mother and father run a highly successful business located in District City, Flexx Unlimited, that is involved in producing fashion and styling celebrities. When her best friend, Justice, earns an internship there, Mari asks if she can work at Style High as well, since it seems a better plan that doing volunteer work or hanging out with with Ms. Sadie, who is a grandmother figure to her. Since she goes to a predominately white private school, Flowered Arms, she's excited to spend time at the mainly Black business, especially since Justice will be there. Her parents are okay with this, but very insistent that she actually WORK, and not just take advantage of the situation because they run the business. The other interns, including Chanda and Kara, are working with Marques and Joel, and the work is not what they envisioned. Instead of immediately styling celebrities, they have to inventory collections, clean and reorganize items, and serve as general gophers. While this is better than cooking burgers, like her cousin is doing, Mari wishes it were a bit more exciting. Chandra is not too bad to work with, but Kara is always rather mean, and seems to have designs on Justice. When there is a competition to style the musician Magiq, Mari gets to show her talents. When a family secret from the past emerges, how will Mari's involvement in the family business be affected?
Strengths: Chase is an avid advocate of upper middle grade titles, and does a fantastic job of making her characters a bit older. This allows them to have more freedom and agency to conduct their lives, which is hugely appealing to my students! Mari's lavish lifestyle, brushes with celebrity, and private school will also delight readers who probably don't live this way. I'm always a fan of books where the characters pursue their passions and work, and the fact that the internship was less glamorous than the interns thought it would be was a great lesson. The family secret was a great twist that I did not see coming, and the way the family dealt with it was realistic. Plenty of friend drama, family dynamics, and outrageous fashions make this an intriguing read. The cover is such a great pop of color!
Weaknesses:This has a fair amount of slang, which is a great way to represent youth culture. My reservations about this always arise because slang varies in different parts of the country and changes over tim. This might not be slang my students use, and might date the book more quickly. On the bright side, I learned a lot of new words! 
What I really think: Chase's So Done, Dough Boys, and Turning Point all do well in my library, so I will definitely be purchasing. 
 Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, October 19, 2021


Matheson, Christie. Shelter
October 12th 2021 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by the publisher

Maya and her family have always struggled financially. Her mother was an art teacher, and her father was a free lance writer who had recently gotten a job working with a famous chef on a cookbook. They live in a small, rent controlled house near the school where Maya's mother taught art, but when the father is badly injured in a car accident and the house's owner gets a good offer to sell, Maya, her mother, and her young sister Gabby find themselves homeless. They are fortunate to get a place in a family shelter, but it's hard for them to get a new place. Gabby was born with many health issues and allergies, so it's hard for the mother to find a place where she can work and take care of Gabby. On the day of the story, a cold rain is forecast, and Gabby has to find her way across town to the school near her old house. She doesn't have a raincoat or an umbrella, which is a problem at her school, which doesn't have indoor hallways (which is apparently a common thing in California). She has other problems as well. Since her family could take very limited possessions to the shelter, she carries her most treasured possessions with her in her back pack. Her best friend, Abby, wants to have sleep overs, but Maya hasn't told her that her family is in the shelter. Worst of all, mean girl Sloane and her minion Madison are constantly making comments about how wealthy they are and making fun of Maya because she is not... and a school unit on helping the homeless is coming up in class. Combined with the worry about her father's health (he's in the hospital in a medically induced coma), this is a lot for Maya to deal with while she is at school. Her teachers are supportive, and the kind remarks they make or the small assistance they offer helps a lot. Maya's mother is interviewing for a job, and the family will be visiting the father in the hospital to check on his progress, both hopeful things in Maya's world, but when Sloane steals her backpack, it's too much for Maya to bear alone. Will she be able to let her best friend and others in her life know all of the difficulties she is facing?
Strengths: I'm a big fan of books that feature a location as almost a main character in the book, and I loved seeing San Francisco featured in this book! It's also a great place to highlight housing insecurity, since (by midwestern standards!) real estate is very high priced. It's good, if painful, to get glimpses  into Maya's life before her family fell upon hard times, and the details about how she navigates her new reality are helpful to know. I liked that Maya had people in her life who cared about her, and that there was some hope that the family's situation would improve. It seemed realistic that she would hide things from her best friend. Sloane's motivation for being mean was understandable, but it's still sad to think that this kind of behavior occurs. This is a short, compelling read that will be interesting to many elementary and middle school readers. 
Weaknesses: I was a bit surprised that the more well off friends or people in the school didn't give Maya's family coats or more clothes, since it was clear there were some things she needed. Perhaps it is more of a midwestern thing, but in my neighborhood, coats and outerwear were always passed around and I had to buy very little.
What I really think: It's important to have representations of children who are housing insecure, both so that those who are in the same situation can feel seen, and so that those who aren't can gain some understanding of this complex situation. This is a great addition to titles like Pyron's Stay, Fox's Carry Me Home, Stevenson's Lizzie Flying Solo, Sarno's Just Under the Clouds, Bauer's Almost Home, Messner's The Exact Location of Home, and (of course), Colley and Aust's similarly named books (both Shelter).

Monday, October 18, 2021

MMGM- Black History Nonfiction; A Line to Kill

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Baptiste, Tracey. African Icons: Ten People Who Shaped History
October 19th 2021 by Algonquin Young Readers
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

In her introduction to this book, Ms. Baptiste mentions that every February, for Black History Month, her children would bring home a single sheet of paper about Black history, that usually doesn't even venture outside of the US. Given the impressive range of African history, this is quite a gap in the education about this continent. 

This book helps, although we still need many more books like it. In a fashion similar to collective biographies about kings and queens of England, we are introduced to ten historical figures, ranging from rulers to writers to military leaders. Some, about whom little is known, may be new to readers (such as Menses and Meneith, Egyptian rulers, and Mansa Musa, the richest man of all time), and others (like Imhotep, Hannibal Barca, Terence, and Aesop) offer additional, thought provoking information about well known figures. Each short biography is accompanied by a beautiful illustration by Wilson, bordered in pages decorations based on extant artwork from that person's culture. 

In between these chapters are helpful descriptions of some of the societal constructs, historic framework, or rarely covered facts. These chapters cover topics such as the use of metal in the ancient world, how nature helped inform African stories, and how other powers invaded the continent and enslaved its inhabitants. These chapters help readers understand some of the things that happen to the biographical figures or what their world would have looked like. 

There are plenty of interesting facts to tuck away for future reference. I found the chapter on Aesop, particularly, to be fascinating and informative. The Greeks had many writers and educators who were enslaved, but their histories are often not addressed. I thought it was interesting that Terrence, for example, is so much better known than Ennius!

Because there are so few books on African history, this could have easily been a whole series of books covering a range of topics. I also wish that there had been a few more maps, and that the book design would have included some sidebars and photographs of the African landscape. There is a lot of children's nonfiction that includes elements like this, in order to break up the text, and this book certainly deserved a similar treatment. 

Wilson's illustrations are lovely, but it would have been helpful to have a few smaller ones incorporated in the chapter, showing some of the Egyptian gods, portrayals in art of Hannibal Barca, or examples of ancient manuscripts, especially since it is so hard to find books on these topics. 

I can only hope that we see more books on African history aimed at middle grade readers, and that in a few short years I might be able to list a number books that are similar to this one. 

Atinuke. Africa, Amazing Africa. Country by Country
October 5th 2021 by Candlewick Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This is a beautifully illustrated overview of African countries, broken down into regions. It's a rather short book, and each country gets usually one page, which is just enough for an introduction. While I wanted more information, this is a great way to show people who might think Africa is a country that there are a lot of different countries that make up the continent of Africa, and invite further research.  

I haven't been buying books about countries, since they are expensive and the information changes all of the time, but this would be a solid purchase for elementary and some middle school libraries who have students interested in knowing a bit more about Africa. The illustrations are brightly colored and have an impressionistic quality reminiscent of 1960s picture books. 

There were a lot of fun facts, and I learned a lot, especially since I have somehow missed a few countries, like Swaziland becoming  Eswatini in 2018! I'm definitely considering this one, since I need to weed some books about countries I bought in 2003. For research, I send students to the CIA World Factbook, but Africa, Amazing Africa is a good choice for pleasure reading. 

Colbert, Brandy. Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
October 5th 2021 by Balzer + Bray
ARC provided by Follett First Look

This was a great historical reference, but very different from what I thought it would be. There was a lot more information leading up to the event, from descriptions of Greenwood and the people who lived there, but also a lot on slavery and the history of the treatment of Black people in the US. There wasn't as much about the massacre itself, which was fine, because reading about the aftermath was more informative. I imagine that (as with the Stonewall Riots) it was hard to get a good feel for what happened during the event, given the dearth of news reporting about it, especially a hundred years later. I was thinking this might be a bit like Blizzard of Glass, and follow a couple of different perspectives as the events unfolded, but something like that might only be possible in a fictional version. 

Definitely purchasing, and already have a student who is eager to read the ARC.

What would still be great to see would be a middle grade novel set in the prospering town, with details about ordinary every day like over a hundred years ago. Maybe even a novel about World War I from the point of view of a twelve year old living in the area. 

Horowitz, Anthony. A Line to Kill (Hawthorne and Horowitz Mystery #3)
October 19th 2021 by Harper
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Yes, this is more of an adult novel, but if you are a fan of Horowitz's Alex Rider books, you owe it to yourself to read his Hawthorne and Horowitz series! Not only is the writing clever and engaging, but the plots are well developed and the mysteries intricately assembled. I find it absolutely fascinating that while Horowitz normally makes his characters rather silent and mysterious (think not only Alex Rider and Hawthorne, but even DCS Foyle and Susan Ryeland), his depiction of himself is rather open and self-deprecating. He makes himself look boring and mundane. The fact that A Line to Kill takes place at a book festival on a British island, and involves shady power line shenanigans as well as a nemesis from Hawthorne's past makes this quite an interesting read. 

Let's put it this way: I don't buy books, except for my school library. My personal library is very small. But I have these books AND give them to my mystery loving friends as gifts. Definitely check this series out if you love well-written British mysteries, especially if you are familiar with Horowitz's titles for young adult readers. 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Fifty-Four Things Wrong with Gwendolyn Rogers

Carter, Caela. Fifty-Four Things Wrong with Gwendolyn Rogers
ARC provided by Follett First Look
October 19th 2021 by Quill Tree Books

Gwen is always going to do better, so that she doesn't get in trouble and her teachers don't have to call her hard working single mother, but... it's hard. Even though she really wants to go to horse camp, she can't remember to moderate her behavior, and soon she is in trouble again. She's been evaluated for an IEP (individualized education plan), but there was nothing wrong with her that could be decisively identified, so Gwen has made a list of the 54 things that are "wrong" with her, from being loud, immature, and whiny to having poor impulse control. She wishes that she could have a diagnosis, like her half brother and best friend Tyler. He's been diagnosed with ADHD, and takes medication that seems to "cure" him. He's not in trouble nearly as much, and frequently helps Gwen with things like rebraiding her French braid so it is tighter, which calms her down. The two have the same father, who did not stay with either of their mothers, who now live in the same town but have significantly different lifestyles and haven't really been friends themselves. Gwen has trouble with keeping friends, as well, and is in danger of being kicked out of the after school PowerKids program, which would have a raft of bad consequences. Not only wouldn't she see Tyler and be eligible for horse camp, but her mother would struggle to find alternative care for her. When working with a doctor who knows Tyler's mother, Gwen does try a couple of different medications, but they don't quite do everything she needs. One helps her focus, but also makes her sad. The other helps a littler, but causes a lot of outbursts. Gwen does revisit some of her friendships, and eventually Hettie and Matty understand her differences a bit more and are able to stick by her. Matty is glad to be reconnected, because she is nonbinary (but still using she/her pronouns for the time being) and thought that Gwen was ignoring her because of that. With the help of a doctor who realizes that both Gwen and her mother need help, Gwen's differences are understood a bit better, and plans are put in place to help her succeed.
Strengths: This was written in a style that shed a lot of light on Gwen's state of mind-- things are always happening, and emotions swirl on every page. It's helpful to get insight into what Gwen wants to do versus what she is capable of doing, and how this disconnect makes her feel. It's also helpful to see how Gwen's behavior affects her mother and her friends. The subplot with Tyler and their shared father is one we should see more in middle grade books, because many of my students have similar life circumstances. The mother's involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous is also instructive. The dynamics with Hettie and Matty might help children who are neuroatypical see a way to navigate friendships and to share their challenges with others. The positive portrayal of the doctor, and the realistically problematic teacher experiences and inconclusive evaluations are helpful in understanding how tricky diagnoses can be. This is a great read for teachers who want to understand their students better and remember why being patient is so important.
Weaknesses: Gwen's challenges are so overwhelming that there's not room for much of a subplot. If that's harder to read, imagine how much harder it is to LIVE. There certainly is enough going on with Gwen to support an entire book. 
What I really think: This might be more popular with teachers than students, but is a great read for fans of Hunt's Fish in a Tree, Gerber's Focused, Pla's The Someday Birds. It's helpful to know that Gwen's challenges are based on the author's own experiences, and I'm glad she shared that with us. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Cartoon Saturday- ¡¡Manu!!

Fern├índez, Kelly. ¡¡Manu!!
October 19th 2021 by Graphix
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Manu has lived at a magical school for girls that is staffed by nuns since they found her as an abandoned infant and took her in. There has always something different about her, but most of the nuns put up with her irrepressible behavior since she has very advanced magical skills, which are considered a gift from the saints. When the new school year starts, Manu is back in her usual form, creating a mango that grows and then explodes allover the school. Her best friend, Josephina, is angry that Manu has caused a mess, and wishes that the saints would take her friend's powers away. Eventually, Manu realizes that she is having problems with her powers blinking out, all because of Josephina's curse. The sisters can't help her,  although they do find a work order-- a potion she needs to rub behind her ears that smells horrible! Her classmates make fun of her, so when the sisters must travel to the city to provide magical healing to ayoung boy, she begs to go. When the sisters exorcise a demon from the boy, the demon asks Manu if she is "one of them". This, combined with a book on black magic that she finds in the library, encourages Manu to try to rid herself of the curse. Of course, this rarely ends well, but aided by Mother Dolores' amulet, Manu and Josephina try to make things right, and learn a lot about Manu's background while doing so. 

"Academy" books are a subgenre of magical realism that has great appeal for young readers, who imagine themselves in magical schools like Hogwarts, the Magisterium, Carthak University, Bloor's Academy or Wizard's Hall. While the lessons and classes aren't described in detail, we do get a good feel for some of the kinds of magic the girls are taught. Santa Dominga Academy is the first that I can remember being described in a graphic novel. This adds a lot of visual detail to the school, so we can seethe uniforms, the lush grounds, and the nuns in their stark habits. We also get some good interpretations of goat like demons, not to mention exploding mangoes. 

Even though Manu is a challenging friend to have, Josephina stands by her side, apologizing early on for cursing her friend, and doing everything that she can to help her. The sisters are very involved in the students' lives, and care a lot for Manu. When we finally see the whole history of how Manu came to be at Santa Dominga, this makes a littler more sense. I am curious to see, if there is a second book, how Manu and Josephina's relationship progresses. 

The colors in the few pages that had them in the ARC were primarily greens, yellows, and browns, which gave a nice connection of nature, especially when it came to the setting of the school and also some of the creatures that weave in and out of the story. I'd love to see the owls in full color. Readers who want more magic in their graphic novels will enjoy this one, which is similar to Layne's Beetle and the Hollow Bones, Aldridge's Estranged, Steinkellner's The Okay Witch or Ostertag's Witch Boy or The Girl From the Sea.

I don't know that I will buy this one. There have been a lot of graphic novels coming out, and this one was just okay. I liked the style of illustrations and the inclusion of Spanish phrases, but the characters and story were fairly conventional. 

Ms. Yingling

Friday, October 15, 2021

How to Train Your Dad

Paulsen, Gary. How to Train Your Dad
October 5th 2021 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Carl and his father live in a dilapidated trailer outside of town. While his father revels in getting food from the dumpster, clothes from garage sales, and bartering for everything else, Carl is less thrilled, especially when the overalls his father obtains are hot pink! Most of the time, Carl is okay with their off the grid lifestyle, and even admires his father for his efforts, but when he gets further into middle school and wants to draw positive attention from girls (and one girl in particular), he is increasingly embarrassed by his father. His friend, Pooder, on the other hand, thinks that bartering and making do are really cool; mainly because he doesn't have to live that way himself! When he is emptying dog food for their pit bull Carol into a secure garbage can, he finds a puppy training manual, and decides to use positive reinforcement to slowly change his father's behavior. He goes to great lengths to distract his father, spending weekends at nature preserves and doing other activities so that the two don't end up at more garage sales. This doesn't stop his father from making a spectacularly ugly recumbent bike for him, but his father does catch on eventually and makes attempts at having a more stable, socially acceptable life style. 
Strengths: I am continually surprised by Paulsen's ability to write humorous books, but his Liar, Liar series, Masters of Disaster, and This Side of Wild are all excellent examples of how well Paulsen does with this genre. As someone who can scrounge with the best of them and whose furniture was largely gotten from curbs, I can both understand what the father is trying to do to survive and also understand whey Carl might be embarrassed by this. While Carl does want some "nicer" things, like clothes that are new and fit, or a better bicycle, he's not at all bratty about this. When his father does buy him new clothes, he appreciates them, and tries very hard to keep them nice, even when he has an accident and is bleeding. He willingly dumpster dives while wearing pink overalls, and is philosophical when he makes the news while doing so. While it isn't explicitly state, there was a strong undercurrent of worry about economic insecurity that I could see Carl experiencing, and I think that is what pushed him to "train" his father. This was pure fun at many points, and even had an excellent scene where Pooder is treating women in a sexist way, and Carl has this thought (From the E ARC): There are times when you correct your friend for being an archaic, sexist pig like CB and then there are times when you sit back and wait for karma to drop-kick his disrespectful butt into gentlemanly manners... who a I to depreice some budding feminist of the chance to put Pooder in his place?" Excellent point!
Weaknesses: The use of dog training methods to change human behavior was done better in Margolis' Boys Are Dogs (2009!) and Stewart's Fetching (2011). The training works, but more because his father finds out what he is trying to do than because the training is effective.
What I really think: Mr. Paulsen is 82 years old. I will enjoy every book he writes for the great turns of phrase and ingenious plots, and be okay with any roughness in execution. 

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Eighth Grade vs. the Machine

Before the day began!
Slice of Life: 
Yesterday I had all 250 7th graders in the library for classes and books, and over 300 books got checked out! My displays looked like plagues of locusts had swarmed over them, so of course twenty minutes before the end of the day my principal phoned to say there would be a district meeting in my space! still need to refill front facing books before I have all of the 8th graders visit today.

I always think that since I get to work a bit early, I'll get reviews written. Instead, I've spent an hour shifting Chrome books around, getting together work for a volunteer, cleaning things. And wait! What about finishing up the stuff for my state evaluation, making signs about the Neighborhood Bridges toiletries and supplies available in the library. and printing a list of students with very overdue books who might not have anything to read so I can hunt them down and chat?

Being busy is good. I'm hoping to get some weeding done from 4-8 p.m. when conferences are going on and we have to be in the building.

Levy, Joshua. Eighth Grade vs. the Machine
October 5th 2021 by Carolrhoda Books 
E ARC provided by Netgalley

After their adventures in Seventh Grade vs. the Galaxy, classmates Ari, Becka and Jack are back with Principal Lochner to try to find their families after humanity has gone missing. They are trying to fix their ship, PSS 118, and the teachers are making a half hearted attempt to get them to do school work, including keeping journals that we get to see in the text. When they finally get going, they face a host of problems, including an invasion of priate speaking robots and meeting up with Hunter, who has gone to the dark side of the Minister, along with Bale Kontra, an old Elvidian. The group wants to make it to the library on Wyzardia, where they eventually find that another ship has survived the Quarantine. This leads them to locate the Poplar, where they meet another kid, Starlee. When they all end up in the hands of the Minister, will they be able to negotiate for what they want? Another adventure is all but guaranteed when a main character goes missing, and Principal Lochner takes the school on their next mission without that person.
Strengths: I bought two copies of the first book, since it is a great space adventure complete with low gravity dodgeball, and the book has been very popular with my students. The sequel will be appreciately recieved. I like the way the kids work together and have lots of adventures, even though personally my favorite part is how the teachers try to hold everything together! The trials with the robots, the Minister, and trying to get to Wyzardia help the group towards finding out what has happened, and the real draw is all of the adventures, as well as the pirate speaking robots.
Weaknesses: There was a LOT going on, and since Jack didn't appear until about 50 pages into the story, I got a bit confused. This is not so much a fault of the book as it is my own Fantasy Amnesia. If I didn't have to write a review, this wouldn't be a problem!
What I really think: One of my favorite middle grade literature lines has got to be "And still, Principal Lochner defines the line between civilization and chaos as 'collared shirts.' " Well, yes! No reason to let standards slip! Jack, Ari, and Beckah's further adventures will be a big hit, and I will be curious to see how the third book unfolds. I have a line of students waiting for this latest installment!

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Across the Desert

Bowling, Dusti. Across the Desert
October 12th 2021 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jolene lives in Phoenix with her mother, who is suffering with a pain pill addiction after the two were involved in a car accident and the mother was badly injured. She doesn't have a lot of friends, but watches one girl who flies an ultralight aircraft, "Addie Earhart" on a streaming service and has been in contact with her. Addie's father has passed away, and her mother doesn't want her to fly, which is why she only live streams her adventures and doesn't record them. One day, when Jolene is on the computer in the library researching solutions for her mother's problems, she catches one of Addie's flights... but Addie crashes in the desert. Jolene tries to get help at the local fire station and tries to call on the phone, but no one takes her seriously. Absolutely certain that her online friend is in serious trouble, she gets on a bus and takes off late in the evening for the closet town to Addie. On the bus, she is befriended by Marty, who is a little older and suspects that Jolene is making bad choices. She definitely is-- she's planning on walking 80 miles through the desert at night with some water, crackers, and a can of sardines. Marty convinces Jolene to stay the night at Marty's grandfather's, but Jolene sneaks out in the night, "borrows" a motorbike, crashes, and falls asleep in front of an abandoned building. Luckily, Marty finds her the next day, and the two trek through the desert to find Addie. They eventually do, and struggle to get the badly injured girl back to civilization. She's broken both legs and has other injuries. Marty's mother is very helpful to Jolene; because of a family circumstance similar to what Jolene's mother is experiencing, Marty and her mother are very interested in getting both Jolene and her mother the help they need. Addie and Jolene continue to be in contact, so more good than bad has come from their ill-considered adventure.
Strengths: There are a growing number of middle grade books that cover family members who have opioid addictions, such as Hopkins' What About Will, Bishop's Where the Buffalo Roam, Campbell's Rule of Threes, and Messner's The Seventh Wish, but this gives an added level of interest by sending Jolene on an adventure to rescue someone else. Bowling has a helpful note at the end of the book about her own family's experience with addiction, which will be helpful to students who might be in a similar situation. Marty is a great character, and her youthful maturity is a great foil for Jolene's wreckless, single minded sense of mission. There are not a lot of books set in the US Southwest, and Bowling does a great job at working the landscape inso her stories. This will appeal to a variety of readers who want books about adventure, family drama, or children much like themselves who are struggling.
Weaknesses: While I admire Bowling's decision to keep this book short and to the point, I felt that a bit more back story would have helped to make Jolene's series of really awful decisions more understandable. While we get glimpses in flash back of how bad things have been at school and at home, when we meet Jolene at the library and she decides to take off, things don't seem bad enough to warrant her behavior. Of course, children will think her actions are fine. I did appreciate that Marty had sense enough to be alarmed that Jolene was meeting an online "friend".
What I really think: I liked this one more than The Canyon's Edge, and since Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus has been popular, I will buy this one for fans of Behren's Alone in the Woods and Disaster Days. 
Ms. Yingling